III Easter, Year C
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." to you forever.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped.
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
In John’s version (probably the original location of this pericope) the enormous catch leads immediately to a re-union over a meal at the sea-side. In this version, the miraculous catch functions not to show Jesus as wonder-worker, but as inaugurator of the heavenly banquet foreshadowed in the earlier feeding of the multitude.
This image of the children feasting at God’s banquet table has strong implications for us as preachers of peace. If mimetic violence finds its origins in rivalry over commonly desired “goods,” then the reign of God inaugurated by Jesus must offer a solution, and the banquet imagery does just that. Only in God are inexhaustible, indistinguishable “goods” to be found. It is the demonstration of this new reality in God that shows Jesus’ identity to the apostles who are too frightened to ask Jesus who he is.
The challenge for preachers in the United States is that we are struggling with a “paradigm shift” that our parishioners are loathe to make. The country known as the United States has always represented a humanly created version of limitless potential akin to the kingdom promised in the Gospels. We have believed in this falsehood because of the enormous quantity of resources (in materials and labor) available here. Horatio Alger could sell the Rags-to-Riches lie, where everyone can climb from poverty to wealth because there were so many “free” acres and mineral rights to be acquired. (The word free is in quotes because of the reasonable claims of the indigenous peoples to the land “acquired” by European settles moving across North America.)
Being a human invention, the image of the United States as the place of limitless opportunity had to end. We are gradually coming to grips with the reality that no one prospers here except at the expense of another. Rivalry will gradually increase as we lose hope in the American myth, and we will need to offer solutions other than all-on-all violence or the creation of another class of scapegoats. As preachers, we need to name this process as our congregations struggle with it.
The Risen Christ offers us a way out of the downward spiral that hangs over us as we switch from a paradigm of abundance to one of scarcity. With the help of the Comforter, we will be able to see through the lie of scarcity that leads us to hoard the resources available to us, and move toward the banquet God intends.
We need to confront the commonly accepted lie that says, “You can accomplish anything if you just try hard enough.” It simply isn’t true.
Yes, some people have emerged from situations so fearsome and depressing that their success seems to suggest that such miracles may be available to anyone. But the logical jump required to go from one person’s success over poverty and degradation to “You can accomplish anything if you just try hard enough,” is no less illogical than concluding from the presence of one four-leaf clover in a patch that every other clover will also have four leaves if we simply will it strongly enough.
Real abundance is gift, and only gift, and it is always given for the sake of the other, not the recipient. As preachers, we will probably only be able to convince our congregations to let go of the American Lie to the extent that we also convince them to place their trust in the true Giver of goods.